Rural realities

IN opposition, David Cameron was quick to criticise Labour for not taking sufficient steps to rural-proof policies. Now, as the Prime Minister promises to be more hands-on following a series of policy misjudgments, he needs to turn his mind to the closure of local facilities, including the courts.

On the day his government announced a new initiative on anti-social behaviour, Ministers find themselves coming under renewed criticism for not doing enough to mitigate the impact of court closures outside major cities. The Commission for Rural Communities has a valid point. Justice can be at its most effective when delivered locally.

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While campaigners were successful in saving Skipton’s court from closure, they were less fortunate in Selby – even though its needs, and issues, are just as important as comparable rural areas. This contradiction gives credence to the view that financial considerations are taking undue precedence over the need to ensure that the countryside is treated fairly from a funding perspective.

It’s not just the courts where this is applicable. The scale of cuts being demanded by Ministers is likely to have a far greater impact in rural areas because the public bodies concerned do not have a vast bureaucracy that can be scaled back. Savings are far more likely to jeopardise key services.

Equally, economies of the scale mean it will be more challenging to maintain vital services, like the Citizens Advice Bureau, is rural areas where the necessary funding is more difficult to obtain. Yet, as the downturn takes its toll, the problems facing rural people are just as challenging as the issues facing urban residents, a reality that Mr Cameron needs to recognise as he considers how he can inject some fairness, and pragmatism, into the policy process.